Nationality: Italian. Born: Rome, 7 March 1908. Education: Attended a French convent school in Rome; Academy of Dramatic Art, Rome. Family: Married the director Goffredo Alessandrini, 1935 (separated), son: Luca. Career: Joined a touring repertory company, and made stage debut in 1926; also sang in night clubs; 1934—film debut in La cieca di Sorrento ; continued theater work; 1954—first American film, The Rose Tattoo ; later stage successes were La Lupa , 1965, and Medea , 1966. Awards: Best Actress, Venice Festival, for L'onorevole Angelina , 1947; Best Actress Academy Award and Best Actress, New York Film Critics, for The Rose Tattoo ; 1955; Best Actress, Berlin Festival for Wild Is the Wind , 1958; also received Italian Nastri d'argento Awards for Best Actress, 1945–46, 1947–48, 1948–49, 1951–52, and 1956; Italian Grolle d'oro Award, 1958–59. Died: Of cancer in Rome, 26 September 1973.
La cieca di Sorrento (Malasomma); Tempo massimo (Mattoli)
Cavalleria (Alessandrini); Trenta secondi d'amore ( Trente secondes d'amour ) (Bonnard)
Una lampada alla finestra (Talamo)
Teresa Venerdi (De Sica); Finalmente soli (Gentilomo); La fuggitiva (Ballerini)
La fortuna viene dal cielo (Rathonyi); L'avventura di Annabella (Menardi); La vita è bella (Bragaglia); Campo dei fiori (Bonnard); L'ultima carrozella (Mattoli); Il fiore sotto gli occhi (Brignone)
Quartetto pazzo (Salvani)
Roma città aperta ( Rome, Open City ; Open City ) (Rossellini) (as Pina); Abbasso la miseria (Righelli)
Devanti a lui tremava tutta Roma ( Before Him All Rome Trembled ; Tosca ) (Gallone); Abbasso la richezza (Righetti); Un uomo ritorna (Neufeld); Il bandito (Lattuada)
La sconosciuto di San Marino (Cottafavi); L'onorevole Angelina ( Angelina ) (Zampa); Assunta spina (Mattoli); Molti sogni per le strade (Camerini); L'Amore ( Woman ; Ways of Love ) (Rossellini)
Camicie rosse (Alessandrini)
Le Carrosse d'or ( The Golden Coach ) (Renoir) (as Camilla/Colombine); "We, the Women" ep. of Siamo donne (Visconti)
The Rose Tattoo (Daniel Mann)
Suor letizia (Camerini)
Wild Is the Wind (Cukor)
Nella città l'inferno ( And the Wild, Wild Women ) (Castellani)
The Fugitive Kind (Lumet); Risate di Gioia ( The Passionate Thief ) (Monicelli)
Mamma Roma (Pasolini)
Le Magot de Joséfa (Autant-Lara)
Made in Italy (Loy)
The Secret of Santa Vittoria (Kramer); Nell' anno del signore (Magni)
Roma ( Fellini Roma ) (Fellini)
Wallis, Hal, and Charles Higham, Starmaker , New York, 1980.
Governi, Giancarlo, Nannarella: La vita di Anna Magnani , Milan, 1981.
Hochkofler, Matilde, Anna Magnani , Rome, 1984.
Carrano, Patrizia, La Magnani , Milan, 1986.
Pistagnesi, Patrizia, editor, Anna Magnani , Milan, 1989.
Di Giammatteo, Fernaldo, Roberto Rossellini , Florence, 1990.
Kobler, J., "Tempest on the Tiber," in Life (New York), 13 February 1950.
Whitehall, Richard, "Gallery of Great Artists: Anna Magnani," in Films and Filming (London), July 1961.
Bianciotti, H., "Hommage: La Magnani, l'intensité de la passion," in Cinéma (Paris), December 1973.
Mitchell, T., "The Construction and Reception of Anna Magnani in Italy and the English-Speaking World," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Fall 1989.
Stars (Mariembourg), March 1992.
Chase, Donald, "Anna Magnani: Miracle Worker," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1993.
Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1995.
* * *
Anna Magnani's persona was, above all, that of "great actress"; yet, in relation to her career, that description has to be understood in a very particular way. Conventionally, "actor" and "star" have been defined in an opposing manner: the latter is defined in terms of "presence," of an authentic and immediately recognizable personality, often glamorous and permitting identification on the level of fantasy-fulfillment; the former is defined in terms of the ability to transform the self, to "be" different characters. Magnani was always, irreducibly, Magnani, yet she lacked the most obvious attributes of the female star: though she had a remarkably expressive face, she was by no means conventionally beautiful; neither did she have a body that could be conventionally fetishized; her roles were never of the kind to encourage fantasy-identification. For American audiences, she represented exactly what Hollywood had consistently failed to produce: "reality," the nonglamorous human being. Hence, she could never be successfully promoted in Hollywood beyond a certain point (soon reached); for audiences conditioned by Hollywood expectations, "reality" is exotic, a striking novelty that swiftly palls.
Magnani's persona as a great actress is built, not on transformation, but on emotional authenticity (or, more precisely, on the signification of authenticity): she doesn't portray characters but expresses "genuine" emotions, the guarantee of genuineness being the rejection of glamour. There is clearly a problem here, exemplified but never resolved throughout Magnani's career. As an "unknown" in Rome, Open City , she was a "real" person, expressing real emotions; yet, overnight, she became a famous actress celebrated for her acting of "real" emotions. One might say that she spent the rest of her career acting authenticity. The problem is readily apparent in the films made with Rossellini. In Rome, Open City she is one of a team of largely nonprofessional players; her performance is extraordinary, but it is fully integrated in the ensemble. In The Miracle she is also extraordinary but in a far more dubious way: the film is so obviously a vehicle for her, and her acting of authenticity is so strenuous that we are impressed not so much by the sense of genuine emotions but by the sheer effort of their expression.
Perhaps her greatest performance is in Renoir's The Golden Coach , and there are very particular reasons for this (apart from, though not unconnected with, Renoir's fascination with and sympathy for actors): the entire film plays upon notions of theater and reality, the interaction between them, the relation between roles on stage and roles in real life. Opening and closing with the rise and fall of a theater curtain, it announces itself as "theater" and gives us the commedia dell'arte performances of Magnani's troupe as theater-within-theater. Every character, except Magnani the actress, is trapped in a social role or stereotype, and each man wants to impose an identity on Magnani who, in the film's final paradox, retreats back into the theater as the only place where, by consciously acting roles, she can be herself. It is a film that calls into question the very concept of authenticity and asks whether we do not, everywhere and always, act. While the film is centered unequivocally on Magnani, her performance is fully integrated in it, and we never have the sense that the material has been conceived merely as a showcase for her talents.
It is sad but predictable that Hollywood could find nothing more appropriate for her than the spurious pretensions of Tennessee Williams at his worst ( The Rose Tattoo , The Fugitive Kind ); and finally wasted her in a thoroughly conventional role in The Secret of Santa Vittoria . (What an amazing Cleopatra she might have made to Charlton Heston's Antony.) Her most distinguished work in Hollywood was acheived (again, predictably) under the sympathetic guidance of George Cukor, the American cinema's greatest director of actresses, whose distinction lies more in his ability to draw out the individual essence of a player than in encouraging the externalities of "great acting." Wild Is the Wind , a project Cukor took over at a very late stage of its development, awkwardly scripted, repeatedly sounding like a stage play, transcends such limitations through Magnani's sensitive and inward performance.